Root Causes and Organizing Strategy Coaching

tree silhouette with deep roots on white background.

Big news!

Starting this month, Organizing to Win’s (OTW) mission expands to include white supremacy disruption consulting and organizing strategy coaching.

If you read the Organizing to Win newsletter regularly (thank you!), you may have noticed an emphasis on what is sometimes called diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). While DEI programs are important, I prefer to talk about disrupting the root causes of injustice – white supremacy culture. While none of us committed crimes against humanity like slavery or genocide of Indigenous people, many of us benefit from their continuing legacy. It is up to us to break down that white supremacy culture and begin building a culture of justice.

While each OTW white supremacy disruption program is customized for the organization, key elements include exploring identity, building relationships and an emphasis on unlearning and learning new. Caution: light bulb moments ahead! 💡

Throughout my organizing career, some of my best ideas came when I could “think out loud.” I’m grateful for the support of more senior organizers who offered feedback and gently moved me back on track when I got diverted.

I look forward to providing that support to others. Starting in June, I’ll offer one-on-one and small group coaching. In these sessions, we’ll focus on talking through challenges, building skills and applying new training to real life situations.

To learn more about these ideas for your organization, see the newly updated home page. Or contact me here!

Same Skill, Different Day

With guest co-author Ash Lynette.

protestors with heads down and fists raised
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash @clay.banks

As organizers, Ash and Mira see our roles as bringing people together to build power. Ash is a senior resource organizer at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (EBC). Mira is the founder and organizer-in-chief at Organizing to Win. 

Mira recently tuned in to a video interview of an alumni director that reminded her of a conversation with Ash about how similar fundraising and organizing are. Mira expected to learn about alumni programs, but re-learned a completely different lesson. If she replaced the words “alumni” and “fundraising” with “members” and “organizing,” it could have been either of us in that interview!

In both EBC’s concept of “resource organizing” and traditional organizing, we are bringing people together to build power. Authentic organizing centers the people closest to the struggle; in the case of EBC, that’s mass incarceration. Activists organize peer-to-peer fundraising events to leverage not just their own money, but also their connections. This expansive view of fundraising shifts who has power in fundraising itself, just as organizing transforms power in society.

To be good at both kinds of organizing, we have to build relationships and partner with members and other stakeholders.

Mira recently applied that lesson to raising money for a volunteer organizing committee. This ad-hoc group of strangers came together to organize a local action that was part of a national Day of Action for voting rights. After humbly bragging about her extensive experience organizing large actions, the team realized that their greatest need was money, not renting porta-potties or negotiating permits.

Remembering several conversations with union leaders about their mutual values of equity, justice and people power, Mira reached out to talk about the action. Several conversations later, she had raised almost half of the budget.

At EBC, the Resource Organizing Crew (including formerly incarcerated people and supporters) creates messaging and outreach tools to support members in their peer-to-peer campaigns. They created a toolkit, sample social media posts, and a webinar that walks new volunteers through how to run a peer-to-peer campaign.

The strongest campaigns start with the strongest relationships. Whether we’re bringing people together to build power or raising the resources to make it all happen, our ability to build authentic relationships matters most. 

Building relationships and asking people to take action are fundamental skills for successful fundraising and organizing. If you’re an organizer, check out the EBC Resource Organizing Crew page to learn how fundraisers apply the concept. If you’re a fundraiser who wants to build a deeper organizing culture at your organization, let’s talk

Ash Lynette (they, them) is a proud resource organizer in the Bay Area, California. At the Ella Baker Center, Ash works with EBC’s supporters to help folks draw the connection between their political work and their efforts to fund the movement. They love going on hikes, thinking/talking about the end of capitalism, and hanging out with their tiny dog. 

What are we willing to question?

Most of the people I know express unqualified support for Black Lives Matter and defunding the police. Me too. However — and there’s always a but — is that enough? The problem isn’t that our entire criminal justice system is shot through with racism, from the “suspicious activity” that is reported to police to the extreme inequities in sentencing.

The problem is that our entire culture is shot through with racism. So many of us learn from birth that the face of danger in America is Black. We teach hate and fear, consciously or not. If we (mostly white people) don’t actively confront that learning and unlearn it, we’re contributing to the problem. If we really want to disrupt systemic racism, we have to be willing to question everything we know is true.

I’m willing to question the truth that I have a comfortable life because I’m smart and I work hard. I’m willing to consider that I might have a comfortable life at someone else’s expense. Were my parents able to buy a house in a good school district because of the legacy of housing covenants? Maybe. (Although we are Jewish. A housing covenant would have kept us out too.)

I’m willing to question the truth of history that I learned in school. Do I benefit from history textbooks that portray the Nat Turner rebellion as an unjustified bloody terrorist attack? Or paint John Brown as a wild-eyed traitor? Or present Indigenous people as passive victims with no agency? Or devote a grand total of one paragraph each to game-changers like Malcolm X and Cesar Chavez (if they’re mentioned at all)? Probably so, because it teaches us that American history is the history of white people. (Note the glaring absence of women too.)

I’m willing to question my assessment of “angry Black women” who confront store managers or bus drivers when they’ve been mistreated. Would I be treated with the same hostility or dismissive attitude (over and over and over again) if I complained? Probably not. (For searing testimony about the effects of daily racism and sexism on many women of color, read This Bridge Called My Back.)

I’m willing to question the existence of “proper English.” Maybe that’s just the English that middle-class white people speak in the 21st Century.

Dismantling racism is about more than passing better laws and electing different people. We have to change culture too. Sometimes one leads to the other, but not by magic.

What are you willing to question in order to help dismantle systemic racism?

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